Museum exhibit marks Sweet Home’s ties to Civil War

Sean C. Morgan

Neither Oregon nor Sweet Home were big players in the Civil War as it unfolded 150 years ago, but some Oregon residents traveled east to fight in the conflict.

The East Linn Museum is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which started on April 12, 1861, with several exhibits that trace Sweet Home’s relationship with the Civil War.

Among them are a flag made by Crawfordsville residents George and Edna Whipple Colbert, a cavalry saber used by William Phillips, a book written by a Union soldier, a letter written near Vicksburg and discharge papers for Jacob Menear.

Glenda Hopkins, a volunteer with the museum, said she “just kind of took it for granted” that the museum possessed the items that are in the collection. Then she saw that Albany was creating a special presentation for the 150th anniversary of the war.

She came across the items in the collection, including the book, in which author Warren Lee Goss “talks about age of the boys, saying they were too young to fight,” Hopkins said. Some of the soldiers were only 15 or 16 years old.

It was a tragic time, but it was one that some looked on as a great achievement for the unity of the nation, she said. “It made a huge difference for how the country turned out. It affected people out here too.”

Oregon was a new state, and people here were choosing sides, Hopkins said. “It meant so much to them.”

That’s what led to the flag on display at the museum, she said. The flag was kept in the family until it was placed in the museum.

Edna was the great-grandmother of W.R. “Buss” Robnett and Lois Robnett Price, Hopkins said. Elsie Robnett, wife of Buss, often told the story of the flag to visitors at the museum.

George and Edna made the flag, then waited to hear if the Union had been victorious. When word reached them, they hung the flag on a pole outside their home in Crawfordsville. They found it on the ground the next morning, apparently the work of southern sympathizers.

They replaced it on the pole and again it was pulled down. They then nailed it to the wall of a building, where it stayed until taken down by the family.

Also on display is a model 1860 cavalry saber and photo of William Phillips, company A, 7th Cavalry, in Iowa in 1862 with the saber at his side.

Phillips served three years in the Union Army. In 1869, he came west with his family and settled in Linn County. He died in Lebanon on Dec. 20, 1903.

Ralph Wiley, grandson of Sweet Home pioneer Andrew Wiley, also was related to Phillips through his mother, Mary Phillips Wiley.

Hopkins has been reading the Goss book, “Jed: A Boy’s Adventure in the Army of ’61-’65.” The book relates incidents drawn from the author’s experiences and observations as a Union soldier.

“The average age of many regiments was less than 21 years, and ‘it was not unusual to see boys of 15 and 16 carrying muskets, enduring the hardships and bearing the scars of battle,’” Hopkins said. “The writer has attempted to portray a soldier’s life as boy soldiers saw it, and if he has failed therein, he has failed in his purpose of conveying to the youth of today a reflection of that patriotic and self-sacrificing spirit, which restored to us the blessings of peace, ‘one country and one flag.’”

The letter from Vicksburg that is on display is signed by Dave P. and John G. Grimm, Hopkins said.

The final exhibit is the discharge papers of Jacob Menear, who at age 17 joined the 200th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers on Aug. 15, 1864. He was a member of Company E. He was discharged on May 30, 1865. The late Don Menear of Sweet Home was his grandson. Don Menear was active in the Sweet Home community, serving as mayor and also helping create Sankey Pond. A small island in the pond was named for him.

The East Linn Museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

For more information, call (541) 367-4580.